Monday, December 11, 2006

Preserved Meyer Lemons

On a recent business trip to San Francisco, I picked up 2 lbs. of California's sweet Meyer lemons at the Ferry Plaza farmers market, so I could preserve them in Mason jars as Christmas presents. Preserved lemons are commonplace throughout the Middle East, and are especially integral to the cuisines of North Africa, where they perfume tagines and add a piquant zing to meze.

When I first started making these years ago, I loved the look of them on my shelves, but only used them once or twice a year. With more daring experimentation, I've come to rely on preserved lemons in my Bloody Marys, a quinoa salad with pine nuts, feta, and mint, and in this no-brainer preserved lemon dip when guests drop by unexpectedly.

1. Use as many lemons as you like--Meyer lemons are preferable, as their skin is thin and somewhat sweet.
2. Cut each lemon 3/4 of the way, horizontally. Now make another cut, perpendicular to the first one, also only cutting 3/4 of the way through the lemon. The fruit should now open like a flower that's held together at the base.
3. Pack the lemons with kosher salt (be sure to fill both cuts), and layer snugly into a clean Mason jar.
4. Cover with freshly squeezed lemon juice and store in the refrigerator.

Preserved lemons will be ready after one month and can be stored for up to one year in the fridge.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Dog Ate My Pickle

It seems that I have committed the Cardinal Sin of blogging: it's been months since my last post. However, I have a good excuse, as I've been traveling for work and pleasure since August.

I have returned home to NYC inspired by the pickles and preserved foods I encountered in Peru, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and San Francisco. Though not technically a pickle, ceviche is one of the most fascinating cured foods in the world. For starters, it's a pickled protein, not a fruit or vegetable, and it's "cooked" with lemon or lime juice, then mixed with slivers of red onions, enormous Peruvian corn kernels, and slices of sweet potato, which absorb the tangy marinade.

If you're heading to Peru, be sure to spend a few days in Lima--everyone will tell you to skip it, but it's home to some of the best ceviche in the entire country. Nobu Matsuhisa learned to master ceviche and sushi at Toshiro's, where the Japanese-Peruvian fusion is clean and vibrant (try the ceviched scallops on artichoke hearts). Gaston Acurio, gets adventurous with bold combinations, such as the black scallops with yellow pepper sauce, at La Mar, a sophisticated al fresco cevicheria with cement floors, Bossa y Stones tunes, and palm trees. Pescados Capitales, a clever play on the Spanish phrase, pecados capitales--the seven deadly sins--is another urbane spot with impeccably fresh tiraditos and cebiches. Buen provecho!